There is much commentary emerging from a court ruling stating that reporters (like the one at right) must testify to a grand jury or go to jail.
Editor & Publisher wants a federal shield law. I have been a journalist for 25 years, and had the kant of a "journalist's privilege" drilled into me from the start. A shield law would be a good thing, but only if it protected all reporters, not just those few with jobs at major corporations.
But do you know what the reporter's privilege really is?
You have the right to go to jail. You also have the right to be killed in the line of duty, as dozens were in Iraq, some by U.S. soldiers. You have the right to be tortured in many countries around the world, and to rot in jail hoping someone can get you out.
These are your rights. No, these are your responsibilities as a journalist. You have the right to fight for the right to do your job. This is why journalists, the ones willing to accept these rights and responsibilities, are among the most important people on Earth. We know why the caged bird sings, because often it's us.
So if I quote you anonymously, and I promise you anonymity in exchange for your statements, I will protect that. I will risk jail for you, I will risk torture for you, I will risk death for you. If I decide your statements are that vital, and your anonymity that valuable, that's what I will do for you as a journalist. That's my job.
I knew that going into this game, and so did my Northwestern classmates. Our teachers made no attempt to hide that. We knew that, despite our papers' lawyers, and despite any state laws to the contrary, being a reporter meant taking a risk with the law.
Accept the risk and you're a journalist. Seek to evade it (not oppose it in court, in your writing, and in lobbying, but evade it) and you're a pretender.
Dan Ackman of Forbes writes, "Expose the Press Players." That's one opinion.
Mine is this. If Matthew Cooper of Time magazine and Judith Miller of the New York Times go to jail, and stay in jail, then eventually their shield will be acknowledged, in fact if not in law.
Real reporters pack toothbrushes.